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Indie Advice: How to get Brillo Game Voice Overs

Apr 172014

There’s something about VoiceOver that really lifts a project. Makes it feel more professional, more valuable. Trouble is, so many indie devs try doing the voices themselves (ack!) and recording it on a mic in their bedroom (the horror!) and it all just kind of sounds kind of cheap.

First up: your script. Even if you know what you’re doing, there’s a chance it’s shit. If you’re spending money on an actor, make sure the script is up to scratch. Rewrite it a dozen times, tinker with it, fine-tune it, send it to other people to read and critique.

Once all that’s done, you need an actor. If you want a ‘name’, someone known to you because they’ve been on the TV, try to work out who their agent is and drop them a line. Agents are frequently useless and hide their websites and clients in a way that Googling it is a pain in the arse. Quite why, I have no idea. Agents tend to be fine and lovely, but bear in mind they’re always desperately clawing to get the best for their client, so be prepared to walk away and find someone else. Some agents are dreadful, and have such a disastrous reputation as a pain in the arse I’ve been in meetings with important exec producers where actors have missed out on great jobs simply because their agent is notoriously difficult to deal with. They think they’re being savvy, but actually they’re just losing their client business.

Chances are you won’t need agents, because you’re going to find an unknown actor. The absolute best thing to do is to put an advert up in something like Casting Call Pro. That’s who I use, and they’re brillo. And free to place an advert – but when making your ad, make it clear that it’s a Paid Job- and absolutely do pay. If it’s a couple of hours VO in the same town they live in, you can probably negotiate £100 for the job. Any more than that and multiply it up accordingly. Make it clear in your ad what you’re looking for (welsh accent, female, 45-60) and what the project is- as much info as you’re happy to give away.

It’s probably sensible to set yourself up with an ‘applications@yourcompany.com’ email address, because you are about to receive a shit ton of applications. Everyone will apply for your middle-aged Welsh female role. They’ll be men, not Welsh, 17 years old, they’ll apply anyway just chancing their arm hoping someone will watch their showreel and think “hey, this kid would be perfect for my other project Star Wars VII“. You’ll receive thousands of applications, and 95% of them will be dreadful. The long fun job of sorting the wheat from the chaff begins. There’s some skill to this.

The most important thing is acting. Quite a lot of the people who apply will have showreels of all the stuff they’ve done. Frequently, it’ll be radio voice overs. Adverts for New Biological Biz or whatever. They sound great -they have the right voice, and exactly what you were after. Trouble is, that kind of thing isn’t acting. You need someone who can act. Who can convincingly emulate the emotions in your script, and these bold ‘advert’ voices aren’t that. It’s a fine line, but by-and-large I’d say ignore people who do a lot of adverts. Look for someone with stageplay experience. Someone who writes their own stuff and performs wherever they can tends to be a goldmine. Finding people who can read out lines in a nice voice is easy, but it’ll sound awful. Finding people who can actually act is a tricky job, but they are out there and it’s well worth the hunt.

Spotting bad actors isn’t as easy as you’d think. There’s a skill to it, and it’s a skill that comes with practice. The first few actors I ever hired (back in my TV days) were probably horrendous.

Don’t be afraid to completely ignore your original ad. What if a great Irish actress comes in, instead of Welsh? Or if they’re slightly younger, does that matter? It’s better to have an amazing actor and tweak your script a bit than someone lacklustre who fits the bill.

Listen to as many showreels as you can. By the 500th one, you’ll be pretty good at dismissing people pretty quickly. It’s harsh, but it’s the only way to get through them.

Contact the one you like the most, and negotiate a rate. Again, always be prepared to walk away. Before you book ANYTHING, get your actor to sign a Release Form saying you’re allowed to use their voice. I covered all that sort of gumph here.

Don’t record it on your mic at home. First up: that’s weird, having a stranger round to sit in your bedroom. It’s going to be awful and awkward for them. If you ARE insistent on doing that, ALWAYS make sure there’s someone else around to corroborate where everyone put their hands. But ew, don’t do that, get a studio, because Second up: it’ll sound fucking dreadful if you do it at home. Your house isn’t nearly as soundproof as you might think. Cars going past, windows rattling, the heating coming on, distant aeroplanes, birdsong, the fan on your PC. The tiniest thing can ruin a brilliant take, and you won’t notice it until you’re editing it down afterwards. Also, your mic is probably shit, cheap and crackly. Book a studio.

Studios are great. They don’t cost a ridiculous amount, and it hugely helps the process. You’ll get a Sound Technician – this is the person that’ll do the actual tech stuff while you worry about directing. What that means is, they’ll focus on making sure it’s actually recording, listening out for that awful popping noise when people spit air into the mic, keeping the audio levels right if the actor is suddenly doing a loud or quiet bit, all sorts. The best thing is: this just frees you right up to focus on what the dialogue actually sounds like.

I like to start by reading through a huge chunk of script first, and discussing what sort of sound you’re after. Record it, because why not, but be prepared to ditch it. Everyone in the room needs to warm up.

Once you’ve kind of got it, go through each line on the script three times. Chip in and request variations if you want (sometimes your actor will put the emphasis on the word where you wanted the emphasis on the word) but I’m telling you now, sometimes you’ll do a dozen retakes to get a line perfect and wind up using the actor’s first take, that’s just the way it works.

If your script is two people bantering, it is absolutely worth your while to get both in at the same time. There’s something… missing if you do it on separate days and cut it together. It’s more disjointed, less natural.

Don’t mess around, keep things flowing smoothly and don’t get bogged down. On your copy of the script, jot down next to each line which take you thought was best at the time, it helps in the edit.

When read, some of your script won’t sound right – let the actor tweak it to suit their voice. Some of your lines will be tough to get through, let them skate through your words in their own way, taking the meaning but making it easier to say.

Finally: always encourage improvisation. Some of the best stuff comes from messing around, having fun. Let the actor go off on a tangent and say stupid things. Frequently it is a goldmine.

Once you’re all done, I recommend re-doing the first few lines. Once your actor has sunk into the role, sometimes the first recordings you did don’t quite gel. It’s always worth a retake if you have time.

Tell your actor to invoice you, and pay them immediately.

Once you’re in the edit, you’ll need to find the best take for each line. Bear in mind, sometimes you’ll find it works to take the start of one take and splice it together with the end of another take.

Finally: be prepared to chop the living shit out of your script. You’ll probably drop 40-60% of it. Kill your darlings. There’s nothing more infuriating for the player than having to click through dialogue, or wait for it to finish playing before they can progress. Where possible, always make sure the player can still move through the game while you’re laying down VO on top of them. If they’re locked in a room waiting for your dialogue to finish, they won’t be listening and they’ll resent it and all that hard work will be for nothing.

Hope that’s of some help :)

4 Comments

  1. Apr 172014
    Andy Gibson,

    Great practical advice – I know from getting it wrong for years ;)

  2. Apr 172014
    Matt,

    I work with a company called SpeedySpots (http://speedyspots.com/), they have a very high level of quality to their work. Working with a company like them might be an option as well.

    I’ve tried a number of things to get the audio of my simple screencasts to not sound garbage, I agree about not using your home mic. It takes a lot for a decent setup.

    //Matt

  3. Apr 182014
    Ben,

    Excellent post! I remember you telling me once about a VO actor’s agent that got uppity about you giving the actor a release form to sign on the day. Is that the standard way to do it, and do you still do it that way?

  4. Apr 182014
    dan,

    If you’re working with an agent, ALWAYS send the paperwork on for them to check over beforehand, but generally the Release itself can be signed on the day.

    People don’t like paperwork being thrust at them suddenly, so it’s sensible to get it approved beforehand, whether it’s an agent or just the actor themselves.

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